Today I received an excellent email from a reader of mine and I have permission from him to post his email here. I thought the information is excellent for first time buyers who are interested in condos. It’s funny but my parents were just telling me this weekend that they met a taxi driver who bought a condo in San Mateo and was assessed one of these secret fees for $20,000 or $40,000. San Mateo’s condo fees seem to be extremely expensive and basically I really wouldn’t want to buy a condo here. The reader also attached a picture of the Colina Condos at 1 Appian Way. That address has been on the home sellers in trouble list in the past and it seems that more will flood the market.
I just want to stress the importance of looking carefully into the signing documents when purchasing real estate, especially condos. Often, sellers may try to slide in information about “special assessment fees” hoping the buyer won’t notice. “Special Assessment Fees” are levied by the HOA for repairs that affect the whole complex that the standard monthly HOA fee can’t cover, usually as a result of shoddy construction, bad planning, or mismanagement. The HOA or property management company usually informs owners about these assessment fees a year or so in advance and sometimes set up an installment payment plan, as some of these fees are outrageously large. These assessment fees are a bad sign, as they often indicate possible future problems and therefore, more future fees. And unfortunately, you can’t deduct it off your taxes like a mortgage. It is an out-of-pocket expense. And unfortunately for some condo-owners, they are already financially stretched to the point where they can’t afford this surprise fee, thus forcing them to sell early before the fee hits them, hoping some other poor sucker buyer was
equally as negligent as they were and gloss over the signing documents in haste.
Here’s an example I saw earlier this year. The condos at Pointe Pacific at the top of San Bruno Mountain in Daly City had an assessment fee levied because the location of the condos was a poor decision. Pointe Pacific is on the side of the mountain, battered by rain and wind moreso than another condo complex no more than a block away. This
results in the buildings at Pointe Pacific requiring more repairs. The special assessment fee: approximately $15,000 per household. Even worse, this was not the first time its happened. Just about 5-7 years ago, the HOA levied a similar fee. So you can probably bet there will be another fee in another few years, after the current fee.
Its even worse when the HOA neglects the repairs as they snowball into a huge financial disaster in the long run. Probably the worst example of “Special Assessment Fees” gone awry is the one CURRENTLY HAPPENING at Colina Condos on 1 Appian Way (cross street Gellert) in South San Francisco. I know several people who have bought condos there. Apparently, the condos were poorly built as the original builder went bankrupt halfway through the construction process. The whole complex requires approximately $13.5 million to repair the run-down buildings. The HOA meetings are shouting matches and whole HOA board has quit in horrified disgust. The property management company has abandoned the complex. The only hope left is for the city of SSF to take over and help solve the process, something many of the homeowners are hotly debating. The ship is sailing in the dark with nobody at the helm, so to speak.
The average estimated cost per household for Colina Condos: $70,000. Yes, you heard right. $70,000 out-of-pocket repair costs for condos going for about $400k on the market.
Even worse, you may need to temporarily move when they finally do get the repairs going (and possibly spend even more money on renting a temporary place), as the condos have some deep structural integrity problems. (Some people have water-logged walls, others have collapsed bathrooms.) So, as you can imagine, many new condo owners with no equity can’t afford it and may need to sell. This will probably result in a bunch of impatient, panicked sellers putting those condos on the market all at once, driving value down further. They are hoping for a miracle of miracles: that someone else will be dumb enough to buy their lemon condo and lift the load off their shoulders.
Lessons to be learned: 1. Read all the signing documents carefully. 2. Don’t buy crappy condos. It is of such importance, I hope you publish this email on your main webpage.
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